The Story of Marine Le Pen
Marine Le Pen, the president of the National Front, is not just a politician, but also a layer taking France by storm at the age of 48, young when compared with the Establishment. Sarkozy, Fillon and Hollande all 62 years of age with only center-left Macron her junior at the age of 39.
Marine Le Pen, also known as Marine 2017 in a vague attempt to dissociate with her father Jean-Marie Le Pen, who founded and headed the National Front for over 40-years, before Le Pen junior stepped forward and succeeded her father in 2011. Certainly an interesting family, Marine Le Pen’s mother having appeared in Playboy back in the 80s after leaving the family behind in an attempt to destroy her estranged husband’s political career.
Marine 2017 became a member of European Parliament in 2004, before the 2011 succession from her father and in 2016 was ranked as the 2nd most influential MEP in European Parliament by Politico, ranking behind Martin Schulz, who was head of European Parliament before deciding to make a run against Merkel for office later in the year.
The president of the National Front has certainly taken French politics by storm this time around. The process has been a long one, when considering the party coming in 3rd in the 2012 election with just 17.9% of the electoral vote. Despite coming in 3rd, the rise in popularity was evident since Le Pen Junior’s take over, Jean-Marie’s 2002 election having come up with a lower 16.86% of the vote in the first round.
This time around, the polls have the National Front in the lead with a forecasted 26.1% of the vote in the 1st round, with Emmanuel Macron and Francois Fillon neck and neck with 20.0% and 19.5% respectively (Source: The Economist).
Le Pen and the National Front’s rise in popularity comes following a clean-up of the party’s image, National Front parties in France and elsewhere commonly associated with racism and radicalization.
The National Front’s founder was even in court in late 2016 to contest his expulsion from the party, a series of inflammatory comments leading to the ousting, as the quest to clean the party’s extremist image continued. Some may accuse Marine 2017 to have taken the Party to a more centralist position, but the policies will likely remain extreme in relation to the other parties in the 2017 election race.
Interestingly, Trump’s November 8th election has brought plenty of comparatives between the newly inaugurated U.S president, his policies and Marine Le Pen and policies put forward for this year’s election. There are certainly similarities, when considering emphasis on law & order, national sovereignty and anti-immigration, both taking hard lines on immigration and law & order, whilst also looking to build protectionism for their respective states. For Le Pen and the National Front, there is one distinct difference, the National Front’s anti-elite position. It would be somewhat of a challenge for the U.S president to take a similar stance in the U.S, when considering his background and social circles.
Marine Le Pen was however one of the first to congratulate Trump on his surprise victory back in November, the result of the presidential election and the EU referendum in Britain clear indications of voter sentiment towards immigration, national identity and the need for change.
Talks of Frexit have certainly picked up as the National Front sees its lead widening in recent polls, Le Pen and the National Front pledging to present France with an EU referendum of its own, should victory be had on 7th May, Le Pen looking to return France to the French as Trump had pledged to return America to the people during the campaign trail.
Centralist voters in France were quite dismissive of the National Front and Le Pen, but there has been a shift in sentiment and this has certainly raised the stakes going into the 1st round of the elections on 23rd April. Terrorist attacks have been one of the drivers for the shift in sentiment, but racial tension on home soil has also built in recent years, 3rd generation French citizens who originated from countries such as Algeria and Morocco now considered a lost generation, the current government supporting refugees more than the lost generation, who continue to show their frustrations in the suburbs of Paris, which has left the police almost powerless, order almost falling into anarchy.
Le Pen’s promise of 15,000 more police on the streets is an incentive for those looking for a return to law & order. Le Pen also pledging to ban organizations and deport all foreigners linked to Islamist fundamentals, close extremist mosques, bring an end to their financing from overseas and strip bi-nationals of their French citizenship where necessary.
Perhaps the French President’s response to Trump’s comments on Europe and Paris in particular, is reflective of the state of play. Trump said on Friday that Paris is no longer Paris, attributing the comment to a friend in fear of visiting over possible terrorist attacks and more. Hollande was particularly sensitive to the comments and condemned the comments. Speaking to French expats, its noted that even the major media outlets in France have become selective on news, concerns over the impact of negative press on the upcoming elections the likely control imposed by the French elite.
There’s plenty of reasons for Le Pen to have gained ground and lead the polls, but the Establishment have yet to show panic, the French election process continuing to favour a Fillon or Macron victory in the 2nd round, while a Le Pen victory in the 1st round has largely been acknowledged by the respective parties. Le Pen’s problem in the 2nd round will be that voters are expected to consolidate from the 1st round, the radicalism associated with the National Front expected to leave voters to vote for the ‘Other Candidate’ in the 2nd round, whomever it may be as long as it’s not Le Pen, the unknown for now being whether Fillon’s supporters will be voting for Macron or vice-versa. The latest scandal to hit French politics suggests that it will be Macron facing up against Le Pen in May
Looking at the markets, appetite for the safe havens has been on the rise in recent weeks, Le Pen’s lead in the polls contributing to the rebound in gold futures and weakness in European equities, which comes despite improving economic indicators and a refusal by the ECB to recognize and respond to the uptick in inflation at the turn of the year.
The markets have learned their lesson in the last 12-months, the EU referendum and the U.S president election results having wrong footed the markets, many underestimating voters’ demand for change.
Can Le Pen win?
France’s history and the election system that is in place to prevent victories by the non-centralists suggests not, but there have been shocks in recent elections and, while unprecedented, Le Pen could attract voters from the losers in the 1st round. The more scandal, the more unrest in France and increased threat of terrorist acts will play into the hands of Le Pen. It will be a surprise victory however and the markets will respond in kind, a panic response to Le Pen victory more than likely, gold futures expected to reflect the rising possibility of a Le Pen victory, gold likely to be the haven of choice at the expense of the EUR and European equities.
If France votes for Le Pen, they’re not only voting for change, they’re voting to leave the EU bringing into question the future of the Eurozone and the stability of the EU.